By Alan D. Vardy (auth.)
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Extra resources for John Clare, Politics and Poetry
This ethical stance is indistinguishable from his aesthetic stance vis-a-vis representation (as I argued above in relation to Wordsworth). Put another way, Clare refuses to differentiate between ethics and aesthetics, and thus refuses to abide by Coleridge's 'fundamental distinction'. It is this refusal, as I have said, that comes to define Clare as a 'minor' poet; the critical judgement of him as 'minor' really means that he does not convert the objects of nature into the grandeur of the self.
He is not Wordsworth or Coleridge, and, frankly, he does not share their aesthetic project. * Clare's 'Minorness' 29 The trouble with rustics, then, for Coleridge is first of all that they are 'immediate objects', unsuitable for poetry. They entrap the hapless Wordsworth in confusions about the very aims of art, and into embarrassing examples of uneven diction. Clare is doubly troubling in this regard because not only does he directly resist Coleridge's 'fundamental distinction', he is a peasant, and thus functions as an extremely uncooperative, if 'immediate', object; he is a living challenge to Coleridge's original assertion of the impossibility of a 'peasant poet'.
Furthermore, the 'lowness' of Clare's subject concerned Coleridge as much as his famous rival Francis Jeffrey, and the conclusion he drew from his attack on Wordsworth's 'Gipsies' was not that Wordsworth had failed to truthfully represent the gypsies, although that was undoubtedly so, but that gypsies were not a fit subject for poetry. As a subject they violated a 'fundamental distinction', made by Coleridge earlier in chapter 22, between the correct objects for art and for philosophy. In that passage, Coleridge objected to Wordsworth's use of rustic characters, even as he admitted that we should consider all persons as equals regardless of their various stations in life; he nonetheless objected because they were, what he called, 'immediate objects', and, as such, better suited to treatment in 'sermons or moral essays'.